Public Access for 2023 New York Design Week
May 18 – June 3, 2023
Exhibition at Head Hi (146 Flushing Avenue) +
From an early age we learn the power of the gift. My toddler’s joy when receiving a present cannot be contained by boxes or bags. Most occasions in our culture—from dinner parties to holidays—are marked by a moment of gift giving. For those of us in the design world, it should come as no surprise that from this very human pleasure of giving and receiving gifts evolved an industry that drives entire economies; many of our livelihoods depend on this unending buying, selling and giving of things. From the gift show to design retail, the business of design draws profit from gifting. But what happens when the act of giving circumvents our current cycle of extraction, commoditization and consumption? The true gift economy asks people to give freely without the heavy mantle of capitalism’s quid pro quo. It is a subversive and radical act when designers participate in and promote networks of mutual aid, repair, and abundance.
Since 2015, the global collective behind the design research group Furnishing Utopia has drawn inspiration from American design history to promote, “more perfect ways of living through design.” Their earliest exhibitions drew from the rich history of the Shaker movement, a Christian sect that worked towards establishing a heaven on Earth. The core tenets of the Shakers—equity, utility, and honesty–have inspired generations of artists and designers to attune to their environs and re-orient themselves towards a spiritual design. The Shakers understood that design is fundamentally an exercise in world building—that the two cannot be disentangled.
What world are designers building in 2023? For this edition of Furnishing Utopia, designers are proposing a landscape of interdependence, grounded in the complexity of place—its weather, its noise, its joy in the face of unpredictable circumstances. Through an exercise in values-driven design, Public Access invites us to locate freedom in the commons and give without expectation. The exhibition is inspired by our New York community’s renewed interest in mutual aid, the gift economy, open source, and open space. It draws from the unwavering faith of the Shakers in worldbuilding to actualize a set of values that extends beyond aesthetics. It asks designers to be uncomfortable, to step beyond the walls of private commissions and showrooms and instead, engage with an unruly public.
In his book, Mutual Aid, the lawyer and organizer Dean Spade writes, “by participating in groups in new ways and practicing new ways of being together, we are both building the world we want and becoming the kind of people who could live in such a world together.” It is a reminder that we must imagine, we must practice, and we must build communities that challenge the extractive, exploitative systems we live in today. We must anchor our practices in care. As the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” taught to generations of schoolchildren across the United States, intones:
Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be freer
Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Public Access is a simple gift, an invitation to look with gratitude, to build with many hands and to share with love and delight.